Amirali: In Time
Crosstownn Rebels

2011 was such a banner year for Crosstown Rebels that any artist issuing material the year after would have a difficult time matching that high level. And so it is that Amirali's In Time can't help but suffer in comparison to recent albums by Maceo Plex (Life Index), Deniz Kurtel (Music Watching Over Me), and Art Department (The Drawing Board). Oh, In Time's certainly good—very good in spots—just not quite at the level of those 2011 releases. At the very least, it hints at an emergent ‘Toronto' sound that's coming ever more into focus—listening to Art Department and Amirali back-to-back certainly suggests as much. Both outfits bring a somewhat gothic twist to their electro-house vocal productions and aren't averse to letting the work of current artists and those from decades past work their way into their music. If In Time has a particularly cosmopolitan feel, some of that might be attributed to the producer's globe-spanning background, which found the Iranian growing up in Canada (he was about sixteen when his parents moved to Toronto) before moving to London to complete an architectural degree and pursue music-making.

That In Time aspires to be more than a straight-up club set is intimated by the choice of “The Harmonious Song” as opener. Beatless and sombre in spirit, the track uses electric piano and electronic atmospheres to paint a brooding scene that starts the album on a downtrodden note. The second cut, the moody “Missing,” would have made for a better opener, given its crisp beat thrust, though even here Amirali aims higher by threading feathery vocal lines into the rolling, mechano-house groove. Even better is “Just an Illusion,” a classic floor-filler that hews to a classic Crosstown Rebels style in powering haunting vocal melodies with the jacking throb of an underground house pulse. The later “My Way” and “Beautiful World” riff just as memorably on that style, so much so that they could pass for Amirali-Damian Lazarus collaborations when their grooves pump so forcefully. It's during “My Way” and “Whisper” that the influence of Radiohead, one of Amirali's primary inspirations, comes to the fore in the slow vocal melodies the producer drapes across the tracks' steamy foundations. At album's end, “The Sounds of My Life” snarls in a way that reveals the influence of Depeche Mode, another Amirali favourite.

Amirali's meditative bent comes through loud and clear in “Painting on a Canvas,” a downtempo setting that's a tad too atmospheric and redolent of trip-hop to recommend it unreservedly. Dressed as they are in acoustic guitars, percussion, strings, and a broad range of keyboard sounds, settings like it and “Last Words” speak favourably of his arranging skills, and the album as a whole also shows him to be an instrumentalist of uncommon dexterity, given that all thirteen pieces were created entirely by him. Having said that, as the album unfolds it becomes increasingly clear that its strongest moments are the ones most evocative of the Crosstown Rebels sound rather than tracks that adventurously deviate from it. Relatedly, the album's impact is diluted by excessive length, suggesting that a more effective package would have omitted “The Harmonious Song,” “Painting on a Canvas,” and “Last Words,” as well as “Story of Us,” a dance-driven, eight-minute moodscape that merely pads the album when it's hardly in need of it.

May 2012